Preserving Uniontown’s Future in Natural Gas
June 24, 2020
South of Pittsburgh, nestled in the hills of Fayette County, is a small city named Uniontown. It once ranked prominently among Pennsylvania’s small cities. In its heyday Uniontown was at the heart of the bituminous coal region and boasted a wide array of metals and manufacturing plants.
Little sign of that era can be found the Uniontown today. Nonetheless, downtown Uniontown is graced by a statue of the city’s most famous son, General George Marshall, and where the good—if largely cosmetic—effects of a revitalization project undertaken several years ago by a local lumber baron are still plain to see.
Coal, of course, began its inexorable decline before World War II.The brutal decline of the industrial economy in the 1980’s was not kind to places like Fayette County, where physical isolation made it that much harder for displaced employees to make the transition to the new economy that began to emerge in Western Pennsylvania in the 1990’s.
Still, the county hung on, and Uniontown has none of the half-abandoned feel of more than a few communities in the region.
It also has the fortune to sit above the Marcellus Formation, providing a bit of good economic news in the last several years as natural gas extraction hit its stride.
As a matter of fact, that was a theme that came up over and over again in conversations with voters last week. None seemed to have any illusions that it would somehow replace the massive payrolls of the long-closed mines and manufacturers, but the effect of even a modest bit of good economic news in a place where population peaked in 1940 should not be underestimated.
Sandy, who described her home as “a country road a few miles outside of Brownsville” might have captured it best: “it’s not huge, but it’s the first thing to come along here in a while that wasn’t smoke and mirrors.”
Sandy’s sentiments point to a phenomenon that seems to provide a measure of assurance to Donald Trump no matter what headwinds he may face nationally. Fayette County was already trending Republican before the word “fracking” was in our common vocabulary. The advent of a vibrant new natural gas industry can only help the efforts of a presidential candidate committed to less regulation and more economic freedom. Don from Uniontown said “this place can’t afford to have the Democrats take that away from us,” capturing nicely the pushback to those Democrats who are committed to environmental causes above all other human concerns.
Donald Trump carried Pennsylvania by a minuscule margin in 2016, and no remotely sensible observer thinks that the state is not in play this year—but while there is a route to victory here for Joe Biden, it almost certainly does not run through the natural gas fields at the far southwestern corner of the state. Nor does it run through the hard working families who hope to meet America’s energy needs by working the land once again